What are High Touch Surfaces and How Should You Clean Them?

February 5, 2021
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Frequent cleaning is important even in the best of times, but COVID-19 has made us all more aware of how often we should clean our hands and the surfaces around us. This will help to limit the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe.  

Cleaning certain types of surfaces more frequently than others is particularly crucial during the pandemic, especially in workplaces where multiple people may contaminate surfaces and be exposed to the virus. These areas are commonly referred to as ‘high touch surfaces’ or ‘frequently touched surfaces’. Everyone should apply these good cleaning habits to their home too.

Cleaning high touch railing

In this article, we’ll explain what surfaces are considered high touch and will list common examples, as well as discuss how to best clean and disinfect them, in line with UK Government and NHS advice.

What Are High Touch Surfaces?

High touch surfaces are those that people frequently touch with their hands, which could therefore become easily contaminated with microorganisms and picked up by others on their hands. For example, door handles, light switches, and shared equipment.

Infections primarily spread via respiratory systems and being in close contact with others, but another common way is via our hands. They touch so many things throughout the day and can easily carry microorganisms, which could then infect you via routes of entry (such as if you use your hands to eat without washing them first). 

Customer opening door with high touch door handle

UK Government guidance has emphasised the importance of disinfecting high touch areas to help prevent the virus from spreading. This goes hand in hand with frequent and effective handwashing procedures.  

What are Some Examples of High Touch Surfaces?

Whether you work in an office, school, restaurant, shop, hospital, or other type of business, there are many common high touch surfaces that you should be aware of. If you’re responsible for cleaning, these are the surfaces that you should focus on and that will most likely be set out in your cleaning schedule.

Examples of high touch surfaces include:

  • Those in communal spaces, like door handles, stair railings, windows, bannisters, light switches, lifts, chairs in reception areas, changing rooms and showers, and staff lunch rooms (including tables and chairs).
  • Surfaces in bathroom facilities, including toilets, flush handles, toilet roll and dispensers, hand dryers, and sinks.
  • Work surfaces and equipment, such as desks, keyboards, printers, mice, phones, monitors, and storage cabinets.
  • Shared kitchen appliances, such as kettles, fridges, microwaves, and cupboards.
  • Surfaces in shared vehicles, including door handles, steering wheels, seat belts, gear sticks, indicators, and other internal surfaces.
  • Shared equipment and tools, such as touch screens, card machines, control panels, delivery crates and boxes, and water coolers.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the most common high touch surfaces that many workplaces have. Depending on the type of premises there may also be others, including areas specific to the industry. For example, the frames and rails of hospital beds. The employer or another competent person will consider specific areas in the risk assessment.

Beautician or hairdresser cleaning chair

Cleaning all of these surfaces frequently is vital. People could touch them several times a day, unknowingly contaminating them or picking up infections that others have spread.

How Should I Clean and Disinfect High Touch Surfaces?

To effectively clean and disinfect high touch surfaces, you should be aware of the current recommendations from the UK Government and the NHS, particularly regarding what substances and techniques to use. This includes understanding how the guidance differs between general cleaning and cleaning after a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.

General cleaning for high touch surfaces

The current recommendations for general cleaning of surfaces during the pandemic are as follows:

  • Businesses can continue to use their usual cleaning products, provided these substances are the right type for killing the microorganisms that pose a risk in the workplace (such as COVID-19). You should always follow the manufacturer’s guidance on using these, to ensure they work properly and you keep yourself and others safe.
  • Periodic cleaning should be planned for high touch surfaces. As a minimum, all high touch surfaces should be wiped down twice a day. Your workplace may require more frequent cleaning intervals than these depending on how often different people may come into contact with them, which will be determined in the risk assessment. For example, door handles, stair banisters, and lift buttons may need cleaning several times a day.
  • Deep cleaning should also be planned and carried out. As a minimum, high touch surfaces should undergo deep cleaning at least once a day.
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Need COSHH Training?

Our COVID-19 Essentials: Infection Prevention & COSHH Training for Cleaners is suitable for people and businesses who carry out or oversee any cleaning activities in workplaces. The course explains how COVID-19 is transmitted and what you can do to help prevent it from spreading. You will also learn about the health risks associated with hazardous substances at work and the legal duties employers have to comply with the COSHH Regulations 2002.

To make this cleaning effective, particularly deep cleaning, there are some techniques and steps you should follow. This includes the six stages of cleaning and the NHS’s recommended cleaning methods, which ensure all contaminants and microorganisms are fully removed.

Workplace lunch room and communal kitchen

The six stages of cleaning are:

  1. Pre-clean, which involves removing debris and substances with a disposable towel, sweeping, or rinsing.
  2. Main clean, which involves using hot water and a detergent to loosen substances and dirt that couldn’t be removed during the pre-clean stage.
  3. Rinse, which involves removing the loosened substances and detergent with hot water.
  4. Disinfection, which involves destroying microorganisms with a chemical disinfectant or other method.
  5. Final rinse, which involves removing the disinfectant using clean, hot water (though this stage may not be carried out depending on the instructions of the disinfectant. For instance, if you can leave it to do its work and it doesn’t need rinsing afterwards).
  6. Drying, such as air drying after the final rinse stage. Anything used to manually dry should be single use, such as disposable towels.

The NHS’s recommended cleaning techniques are:

  • Always work from the cleanest area towards the dirtiest area.
  • Clean from the top to the bottom of the surface.
  • Use an ‘S’ shaped pattern where possible when cleaning surfaces.
  • Be careful not to go over the same area twice, as this may re-contaminate it.
Worker cleaning surface with spray and cloth

Cleaning after a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case

You will need to follow slightly different guidance when cleaning after a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, though the above techniques (the six stages and the NHS methods) can still be applied.

The current guidance states that any surfaces or objects that the individual has definitely come into contact with, those with visible contamination, and high touch areas should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. You should use disposable materials to do so.

This should be done using one of the following:

  • A combined detergent disinfectant solution at a dilution of 1,000 parts per million available chlorine (ppm av.cl.), or:
  • A household detergent followed by disinfection (1,000 ppm av.cl.), or:
  • An alternative disinfectant that is effective against enveloped viruses. COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, which means that it has an outer envelope around its structure. This can be easily compromised by disinfectants that are effective against enveloped viruses.
Housekeeping in a hotel room

Anyone cleaning after any suspected case must be provided with disposable gloves and an apron. Additional PPE may be necessary depending on the risk. For example, a fluid-resistant face mask if a suspected or confirmed case stayed in a hotel room and the virus may be present in the air.

There are a lot of high touch surfaces in workplaces and even in the home, and it’s crucial that they undergo frequent, thorough cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will minimise the spread of the virus and help to keep everyone healthy and safe, in and out of the workplace.

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